THE SOCIETY'S HISTORY
Our Society, whose objectives include '...the production of Light Operatic and Dramatic works by amateurs...' was founded in the Autumn of 1921 by Colonel T. Gibbons & Miss Lottie Bacon and named "The Dunmow Amateur Players".
From the beginning, the Society concentrated mainly on light opera and has always been Dunmow's source of Musical Theatre. The main (annual) shows have always been staged around Easter time and, in the 1920s, were mostly of Gilbert & Sullivan Operettas, the first being HMS Pinafore presented in the Spring of 1922.
This and subsequent productions at that time were presented in the old church schoolroom beside the Doctor's Pond in North Street, which is now home to the Youth Club. In those days, a stage was constructed each year by a local builder - T. Harris & Sons. Chairs were hired from surrounding halls and an electrical supply was provided by a cable across North Street from The Dunmow Brewery, which stood adjacent to the King's Head public-house and was owned by the Gibbons family.
From old receipts, it appears that a stage production also involved the dismantling and subsequent re-installation of some gas lighting in the schoolroom by the Dunmow Gas Company. It's hard to imagine the Health & Safety issues that would be applied today in that scenario!
Colonel Gibbons directed most of the early Gilbert & Sullivan productions, while Miss Bacon recruited an orchestra of local amateur musicians and a professional leader. The Musical Director was Mr. F.H. Spivey, who continued in that role up to 1933. After the 1928 production of 'The Mikado', Colonel Gibbons was succeeded as Director in the 1928/29 season by Miss Marguerite Lister, a member of The Players, who had stood in for him as Director for the 1927 production of The Pirates of Penzance.
The advent of a new director coincided with a change in the choice of shows. The run of Gilbert & Sullivan Operettas, which almost all amateur societies performed in the 20s, gave way to Floradora in 1929 and My Lady Molly in 1930 – both very successful ventures.
The 1930s showed a marked change in the type of shows presented by The Players, but when Miss Lister moved away from Dunmow in January 1931, efforts to find a replacement director were unsuccessful and this was quite a setback for the Society, but not the end. From 1931 to 1933, a number of variety shows and straight plays were given in church and village halls in the Dunmow district and in January 1933 the pantomime Aladdin was presented at the Drill Hall.
The opening of the E.T. Foakes Memorial Hall in Stortford Road in the Autumn of 1934 offered greatly improved facilities to The Players and the first show, in January 1935, was Queen's Ring, a straight play by local author Hugh Cranmer. The Ghost Train was produced in the Spring of 1937 and in August 1938, rehearsals began for Laburnum Grove, but were short-lived following the Munich crisis in September that year. Ultimately, the outbreak of World War II put an end to amateur theatricals for the next ten years.
After the War, local councils were encouraged by the Government to help societies start up again and Great Dunmow Parish Council responded by sponsoring an inaugural amateur theatrical meeting which was held on 29th May 1947, with a grant of £25. A number of pre-war members of the old society were present at the meeting, where it was decided that the name of the re-formed group should be "The Dunmow Players" thus reflecting the name members had used amongst themselves from at least as early as 1925.
A succession of meetings followed during the Summer of 1947, at which it was eventually decided to present a musical comedy in the Spring of 1948 and to produce some low-cost dramas in-between musicals. As in the 1920s, it began with a succession of Gilbert & Sullivan Operettas, The Pirates of Penzance being the first staged in April 1948, until the 1953 production of The Geisha marked a change in style again.
Since then, the choice of shows has ranged over the whole spectrum of British and American musicals, as well as some from Europe by such composers as Offenbach and Lehar. The Dunmow Players are very proud of the fact they have continued to present a musical show every Spring without a break since.
One very significant part of the Society's history has been the rising costs of staging a full-scale musical – for example, in 1925, the production costs for The Gondoliers amounted to a total of £188, 15 shillings and 1 penny – by 2006 the production costs for Calamity Jane were in excess of £11,000!
Despite the rising costs, since 1921, The Dunmow Players have traditionally made donations to various local charities or lent their support to deserving organisations as part of their service to the local community. In 1968, the Society was particularly pleased to be in a position to give £500 towards the Talberd Room and scenery store extension at the E.T. Foakes Memorial Hall, which has now been 'home' to the Society for over 70 years.
More recently, we have been very proud to be associated with fund-raising for the Dunmow Town Mayor's Charity Fund, donating a total of £1,400 from the proceeds of our "Variety Music Halls" in 2007 & 2008.
Our concert work has included support for the New Street United Reformed Church Christmas Tree Festival on 2 occasions and we were privileged to perform the special concert for the URC's Re-Dedication celebrations, following its major refurbishment in 2007. In that year, we also raised over £1,200 for the St. Clare Hospice, Hastingwood, from the proceeds of a special worldwide "Voices for Hospices" Concert we organised with local school choirs and The Dunmow Singers.
E.T. Foakes Hall opened in the Autumn of 1934
The rising cost of shows
In 2006 Calamity Jane cost £11,000 to stage